Catalan Water Research Institute research and innovation for the sustainable use of water

The MERLIN Project: Moving towards the restoration of continental aquatic ecosystems in Europe

Thursday, 20 June 2024

Inland aquatic ecosystems are vital to our well-being, but face numerous threats such as pollution, climate change and human activities. The MERLIN project ( Mainstreaming Nature-based Solutions for Freshwater Restoration ) is a crucial initiative that addresses this challenge by promoting the widespread adoption of nature-based solutions for the restoration of these ecosystems across Europe. This approach harnesses the power of natural processes to restore degraded ecosystems and improve their health and functionality. Some examples that can be taken from MERLIN are the restoration of wetlands, riparian forests, or even the reintroduction of beavers.

MERLIN takes a broad approach. The project goes beyond the simple restoration of continental aquatic ecosystems; aims to create a plan for success considering not only ecological factors, but also social and economic dimensions. In this sense, understanding the social and economic benefits of restoration projects can encourage wider support and investment in these initiatives.

The main contribution of ICRA-CERCA in this project is the development of a methodological framework based on models that can predict the socio-economic impact of the implementation of restoration strategies at the basin scale. Apart from its utility, this framework is versatile because it considers different typologies of restoration actions that can be modeled in different aquatic ecosystems (peatlands, wetlands, small rivers and large rivers), and has been developed in five case studies in contexts very varied European geographies.

This methodological framework is based on the eco-hydrological model SWAT+ (Soil and Water Assessment Tool), which is a process-based model that simulates how natural systems work at the watershed level and considers the interactions between water and ecological processes . Within this framework, ICRA-CERCA is working on the development of socioeconomic models related to ecosystem services, which start from the results simulated by SWAT+ to quantify the impact of the restoration scenarios implemented in economic terms, and which can be used to perform cost-benefit analyses.

In addition, ICRA-CERCA has the challenge of making this methodological framework transferable to any European context and applicable at different levels. To achieve this, it has been prioritized that this framework starts from the use of data available at European level and open. However, the entire framework will be meticulously documented, ensuring that it can be easily applied to other European cases.

With this effort, ICRA-CERCA and the MERLIN project are paving the way to a future where Europe’s continental aquatic ecosystems are restored and conserved, and can contribute to the well-being of present and future generations.